Tatsuro Manno, who is currently working as a director for the economic news media NewsPicks, sometimes leaves the world of news behind to create fictional narratives that touches, in their own way, upon certain truths. His short film Motherhood (2019), which explores eugenics,was selected for more than 20 film festivals in Japan and even won various awards.
His latest short-film, Storage Man (2022), earned the Audience Award at the Skip City International D-Cinema Festival. Reason enough to shine our psychoanalytic light on Manno’s narrative.
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Due to the impact of the rapidly spreading coronavirus on the Japanese economy, Takashi Morishita (Hirotaka Renge) learns, one day, that his employee contract will be terminated and that he needs to leave the company’s house as soon as possible. Akiko (Kaho Seto), his wife, has lost her part-time job as well.
Not much later, Takashi accidently hits Akiko as she was trying to stop him from drinking. The following day, after coming home from Hello Work, his parents-in-law confront him with a divorce document. Deprived of his family and unable to find new work, Takashi sees no other option than to start living in a rental storage.
Storage Man does not merely trace the financial and emotional impact of the covid crisis on certain subjects, but also stages how this crisis, by hurting the finances of a family system, dislodges the marital relational dynamic. Yet, more than anything, Manno’s narrative explores the importance of the chance encounter, the importance of subjective speech, and the necessity for a subject to perform acts that can be received as signifiers of understanding by the other.
While the couple could stabilize their marital happiness by sharing fleeting imaginary moments of shared pleasure (e.g. the birthday party of their daughter Sakura), the sudden financial void short-circuits such imaginary veil. Behind the veil of shared pleasure lies, as Storage Man underlines, a field of miscommunication and a clashing with the other’s Otherness. Akiko, consumed by this sudden financial insecurity and who desires to see Takashi act, misunderstands his peculiar calmness and fails to realize the true goal of his drinking – i.e. to sedate his worry. And Takashi, in the attempt to calm himself, radically ignores what his wife fails to see: a solution to their financial predicament (Narra-note 1).
This radical mis-encounter, which culminates in Takashi’s violent act of refusal – i.e. the slap, ultimately deprives him of his family as well. With no work and no family, driven to the edge of the societal field, can Takashi perform the necessary acts to start re-installing himself within the societal field as a subject? And can he succeed, in some way or another, in communicating his ongoing dedication towards his family to Akiko (Narra-note 2, narra-note 3)?
Tetsuro Manno has crafted a well-balanced and well-thought-out composition. While he mainly relies on static shots to tell his story, Manno has found a way to utilize slow-moving dynamic shots to help heightening the emotional impact of certain pitiful imagery or to introduce new narrative elements in a fluid and unobtrusive way. Moreover, due to the great colour and lighting design and the pleasant use of depth-of-field, Manno ensures that his imagery is visually pleasing.
While Manno does not overly-rely on musical accompaniment, the few musical decorations do not fail to elegantly infuse a tinge of sadness in the sequences they accompany. In more precise words, the music reverberates and accentuates certain vocalized signifiers or images, hereby giving them a weight of sadness, and elegantly underlines the signification of signifiers that are unheard but indirectly shown (Music-note 1). More light-hearted pieces of music are utilized as well, for example to subtle emphasize the strange nature of the encounter of Takashi with Ogasawara (-), another storage room resident, or to echo the presence the spark of hope that cannot be squashed by the covid-circumstances.
With Storage Man, Tetsuro Manno proves that he has mastered the drama-genre and shows off his ability to create a quite thematically dense experience. The many thematical fragments that Storage Man elegantly touches upon – from the field of miscommunication to the importance of vocalizing subjectively charged signifiers – is one of the main reasons why Manno’s narrative is able to resonates so well with audiences. Another reason for the narrative’s success is the open nature of its ending, which allows the spectator to take the spark of hope that lingers in the finale and imagine a radical happy end for Takashi.
Narra-note 1: Some spectators might argue that Takashi’s statements (i.e. Don’t worry. I’ll go to Hello Work; Don’t worry. It won’t take long.) acknowledges his wife’s worry. Yet, ultimately, these enunciations are meant to calm himself and silence his wife so that he can avoid the confrontation with his own worrying, a worrying he is trying to subdue with alcohol.
Narra-note 2: While the ‘gift’ of the divorce paper is an attempt by Akiko’s father to evaporate the marital bond, this is not what Akiko truly desires. For her, this ‘gift’ is a radical attempt to force him to act and reveal his dedication towards his family.
Narra-note 3: The radical act by Yumiko Ehara (Kaho Seto) has to be read as a hysterical tragedy. The impact of the corona on the societal field radically cut her off interactions that could grant her a feeling of being loved.
In this respect, her demand to Takashi is not so much a demand for money, but a demand for love. That’s why the gift of money does not stop her from committing the radical act that gives expression to her acceptance of not being loved by the O/other.
Music-note 1: While the spectator never hears Akiko’s answer to Takashi’s question concerning the sudden demand for a divorce, this lack is resolved – the spectator can guess the signified – by the subsequent imagery and the sad musical accompaniment. In a certain sense, the music echoes those signifiers that Manno elided in his narrative.